Canberra Community Chorale – Where did we come from?
Last century at CCAE/University of Canberra – 1980s and 1990s
Today’s Canberra Community Chorale has a long history of lunchtime singing, starting way back with the Canberra College of Advanced Education. In the 1980s it was much more informal, with a few interested members meeting in a room on the top floor of Building 3. It was led by a lecturer, Jacinth Oliver, and was open to staff members.
In 1991 things got more serious with the formation of the University of Canberra Music Society Choir for staff, students and friends. However no auditions were required and that fact remains to this day. Rehearsals were held every Wednesday lunchtime in the Union Theatre on the concourse level. In 1994 Julie Spencer, an Engineering student, led the choir for a few lunchtime concerts on campus and for the Graduation ceremonies held in the UC Gymnasium.
Robin Eakin was the Director from 1994-97, with Iain MacDougall (a lecturer from Engineering) as pianist. In March 1995 a new constitution was adopted.
During the ‘90s Prof Don Aitkin was Vice-Chancellor. He was very supportive of the choir, which participated in such events as Commencement and Ecumenical Services in February, Christmas Carols at the Staff Club in December, and for all the Graduation ceremonies.
Initially, graduations were held on campus in the gym. Then some of the Architect students entered the design competition for the New Parliament House. One of the winning architects from Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp, a Mr Aldo Giurgola, became an occasional guest lecturer at the Faculty of Environmental Design and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of the University at the first graduation ceremony in the Great Hall in May 1997. All the Faculties at UC were invited to hold their graduations there from then on, and the choir sang at every single one over two days (6 ceremonies).
This role provided a fantastic opportunity to get better acquainted with one another, sing before a large audience and to hear the guest speakers for each Faculty (or surreptitiously read a book, study or do crosswords hidden behind a music folder!).
One ceremony tested the repertoire severely. The graduation gowns were left behind at the university and had to be retrieved. So that the seated audience would not get too anxious or bored during the long delay, the choir performed every single known item to fill in time. This was a director’s nightmare, but Robin (and the choir) coped admirably!
Iain MacDougal was extremely talented on the piano and helped out with a few solo numbers as well. The Chancellor had said “no repeats during the different ceremonies” (except for the Processional and the Recessional) so the repertoire was large, thankfully. Under Robin’s baton the choir also performed in community events, singing carols for the residents at the Aranda Nursing Home, Carols by Candlelight on the lawns of Calvary Hospital, and joining in a song service with the Salvation Army Band at the City Temple in September 1996.
Into the 21st century – more ambitious performances at UC and beyond
Felicity Fullager started directing in late 1997 and continued until mid-2001. Singing for Commencement in the Boiler House, Ecumenical Services, Graduations and Carols by Candlelight at Calvary Hospital and at Aranda Nursing Home continued. In 1998 Felicity formed a small a capella group called Quintessential, which sang with the whole choir in “SpringFest 1999” and “SpringFest 2000” activities. The type of music was drawn from a variety of sources: old folk songs, madrigals, popular and religious songs, all of short length.
Felicity was the first conductor to introduce a longer, more difficult piece of music. The Fauré Requiem Op 48 was performed for both “SpringFest 2000” on campus, and in collaboration with SCUNA at St Andrews Presbyterian Church on 9 September 2000.
The dress code for concerts was black on the bottom and white on top, except for spring concerts when pastels were worn on top, or Christmas time when cheery red, green or bright tops were worn. The choir remained small, averaging about 25, always hoping for more tenors, and even more basses at times. The annual fee was $20.
After Felicity’s resignation in June 2001, Julie Spencer once again came to the rescue and kept the choir together with Avril Lim as pianist. Occasionally Kay Hahne directed or accompanied on piano in order to keep things rolling along every Wednesday. Beryl Pedvin, from the Library, was also very instrumental in keeping the choir active. All members wanted that hour every week to get together and sing.
Music programs at UC – more community involvement in Chorale
The new Vice-Chancellor, Prof Roger Dean, did not invite us to sing at Commencements or Graduations so that was the end of that era. The last Commencement event was 30 January 2002 when Don Aitkin retired. But Julie was innovative and entered us into a Canberra Eisteddfod on 2 August 2002. We also sang carols at Canberra Hospital, Café Iguana on campus, and Café Momo over in Technology Park. For these Christmas events either red or green cummerbunds for the men and sashes across the shoulder for women were worn over white tops.
David Tattersall stepped in as new Director from 2003-2009. Music on campus was becoming even more serious. Annual fees were upped to $25; then $30 in 2006.
There were now two groups – a lunchtime group called UC Camerata, and an evening group, UC Chorale, which was eventually directed by Tobias Cole. Numbers were growing. Both instrument and voice tuition were now available on campus; voice – individual or group, piano and guitar lessons and music reading. No auditions were required, but now those who wished to learn more technical skills could take the classes offered. More people from outside the campus joined the two choirs (which joined together for the evening concerts). Special warm-up and vocal exercises were given before any practice singing started. Avril Lim continued as pianist until Sept 2004.
UC Chorale reached another milestone when we performed Handel’s Messiah at All Saints Anglican Church in December 2003 and again in 2004. We continued with performances on campus at wine and cheese events from time to time in such venues as the Council Room, International House or Building 5.
Chorale continued to develop its practices. Rehearsals were now held in the light and spacious music room on the top floor of Building 5, in the Faculty of Education. Bill Green, from the Faculty of Environmental Design and at that time President of the choir, presented 50 scarves and 20 matching neckties for a new look during concerts. Small bluish-purple bluebell blossoms feature on black, representing the ACT’s floral emblem – the Royal Bluebell Wahlenbergia gloriosa. David introduced a new way of performing: for some performances, the choir dressed appropriately for the characters for Wind in the Willows in December 2007, The Beggar’s Opera in August 2008 and for Horrortorio by Joseph Horovitz, in December 2009, we appeared as a weird, scary mob of witches, Draculas and Frankensteins! A few times the year ended by singing a few numbers at the Vice-Chancellors December BBQ lunch for staff at his residence on campus. A few songs sung for a delicious lunch outside on a balmy summer day was a nice way to relax and sign off until the new year.
Andrew Koll became the new director from 2010 to mid-2013. Andrew was a Bach enthusiast and a stickler for exercises in timing and rhythm. Along with a frivolous and fun Music Trivia Night in October 2011, organised by Eva Schroeder, we performed serious and demanding works including Handel’s Judas Maccabeus at All Saints Anglican Church on 2 December 2010; Bach Cantatas at St Paul’s Anglican Church on 25 August 2011 and 7 June 2012; Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols on 1 December 2011; and Fauré’s Requiem Op. 48 and French Carols 8 December 2012 both at St Paul’s. During Andrew’s time as director, Eva, a graphic designer and artist designed beautiful programs. It was during this time, the practice venue switched from the music room in Building 5 back to the Union Theatre. Membership was 35-40 choristers.
Alan Hicks came from the School of Music to direct the choir from the beginning of 2013. The choir was doubly blessed as his talented wife Christina Wilson became one of our regular soloists. Alan brought new and different vocal exercises, new venues, and new music once again, all to the delight of the choir, plus more new members swelling the numbers to just over 60. With each new director, Chorale members learned different skills. Many took voice lessons from Christina, and the choir became more self-assured and able to tackle a wide variety of musical offerings.
Membership shifted to $300 per year. Practice time moved to Friday lunchtimes. Many lovely shorter pieces were seamed together for themed concerts. Concerts in Alan’s time were All the World’s a Stage, which featured great arias and choruses from opera, at All Saints Ainslie in June 2013; Herbs and Spice on 13 November 2013, Songs of Peace and War on 14 June 2014; Dian Dreaming comprising music by women composers on 14 June 2015 all at the Belconnen Arts Centre on Lake Ginninderra. A Sin of Old Age, performed in November 2014 at All Saints Ainslie, featured Rossini’s Messe Solennelle. From 2009, Felicity Moran, as a UC Music Department staff member, with the help of Jill Freeman, John Bonnett and others, managed most of the practical affairs of Chorale, including concerts, as well as singing with us.
At the same time as our repertoire was expanding, our access to a guaranteed venue for practices at UC was no longer guaranteed, as we faced competition from other entities. In July 2015, after much searching, Alan and Felicity found a new venue where UC Chorale could be sure of a place for rehearsals – our current venue at the large hall at the Cook Community Hub.
We performed two concerts in the Cook Hall: Glorious, which consisted of various glorias by Purcell, Handel, Bach, Nystedt and Vivaldi on 15 November 2015 and Hearts all Whole on 4 June 2016. We took Hearts all Whole the next day to St Clements Church in Yass. A couple of times the choir performed at the VC’s end of year staff Christmas party.
Alan’s farewell concert December 2016 was Mozart: passion & peace which included some operatic highlights for soloists and the Requiem in D minor performed by the chorale, held at Wesley Uniting Church. While rehearsing for this concert, Alan introduced the very talented Lucus Allerton as Chorale’s accompanist. Not only has Lucus taken on the role as Musical Director on several occasions, he has contributed significantly to our concerts, performing greatly acclaimed solos.
After Alan’s departure, the very talented AJ America was appointed Musical Director of UC Chorale from the beginning of 2017. Fortunately for Chorale, Lucus agreed to continue to support us as accompanist.
Within months of AJ’s appointment, the University of Canberra made an announcement that shocked all involved with UC Chorale. The University of Canberra would cease to offer music at the end of the first semester of 2017.
The creation of Canberra Community Chorale
Shortly after the University of Canberra’s surprise announcement, members of Chorale met and agreed to continue as an incorporated body to be known as Canberra Community Chorale, which would be supported by an elected committee. Fortunately, AJ was happy to continue in the role of Musical Director, and Lucus as Accompanist. AJ held that position until the end of 2018.
Under AJ’s enthusiastic and ambitious leadership, Canberra Community Chorale performed four very successful concerts. The first, Another Place, Another Time, on 2 July 2017 at Kippax Uniting Church Holt, featured songs in a number of challenging languages including Icelandic and Hebrew, and an outstanding performance by Lucus of Danse Macabre. Lucus’ performances were to become a feature of several of our concerts. Audience response was enthusiastic and the venue was packed.
In Secrets of the Heart, in December 2017 at Wesley Music Centre, Chorale sang Chilcott’s Requiem – a concert where AJ’s connection with Luminescence made a very significant contribution to its success, as several esteemed soloists including Veronica Milroy and Dan Walker featured.
On 7 July 2018, a freezing, blustery and wet night, the Chorale performed Rejoice! Britten and the British Choral Tradition, at Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest. This concert featured the music of Britten, Hurford, Byrd, Taverner and Purcell. It was well received by the hardy souls who ventured out on a terrible night but the challenge presented to the audience led the Committee to decide that future winter concerts would take place during daylight hours.
In the middle of 2018, it became clear to AJ that increasing commitments in Sydney would make it impossible for her to continue as our Musical Director beyond 2018. Our last concert under the leadership of AJ was Songs of Exile, featuring the music of Schutz, Stanhope, Earley, Anrneson, Pärt and Clare Maclean. This concert was at the North Belconnen Uniting Church, Melba. Many Chorale members expressed their gratitude to AJ for introducing us to so much interesting music that was challenging to perform.
At the start of 2019, Chorale was very happy to welcome Dan Walker as our new Musical Director. Again, we were very glad that Lucus agreed to continue as our Accompanist. Our first concert in 2019, This Shining Night, was performed again at the North Belconnen Uniting Church to a packed and very appreciative audience. This concert featured Schubert’s Mass in G, surprisingly bookended by Dan’s arrangements of two Depeche Mode songs and interspersed with songs by Samuel Barber.
Our numbers are growing and the enthusiasm is high. We are proud to continue in the tradition of our antecedents, the University of Canberra Music Society Choir and then UC Chorale, where members join together to learn what we can about music and sing for the joy of it.